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A Geoff Mann Band - Loud Symbols 1990


01. Obsessed

02. The Kingdom Is Coming

03. More To This

04. Never Mind

05. Crying Inside

06. What In The World

07. Signs Of War

08. Try Again

09. Find Your Feet

10. Dance



Back in the early 1980s, when the club scene was proliferating in London's West End and it was possible to hear salsa, funk, soul, Latin-jazz, African and goth sounds in venues a few minutes' walk from each other (if you had the readies and the right clothes - it was the era of the infamous "door-policy" that made some clubs harder to enter than the Pearly Gates), one group of music fans resolutely went their own way. Club-goers traipsing down Wardour Street were bemused by queues of longhaired leather-jacketed youths stretch¬ing around the block from the Marquee Club and by posters for bands with strange names like Pallas, Pendragon, Marillion and Twelfth Night. "Rock music - how quaint," they may have said, with the fashion-victim's typical shortsightedness. What they were catching a glimpse of was an anti-fashion grassroots movement that rejected the cultural dictates of the music press. At its forefront were a new wave of bands from the provinces who had never chucked away their Pink Floyd albums and didn't regard the tag "progressive rock" an insult. Nirvana for them was neither an American chart-topping sub-pop band or a Buddhist Valhalla but a blend of wacky Tolkeinesque lyrics and fiddly guitar bits with the aggression and drive of a post-punk era.


"So what?" you may well ask, over the racket of your brand new U2 album. Pa¬tience, gentle reader, patience. Among the musicians lugging their gear through the stage door of The Marquee was a young and hairy Geoff Mann, lead singer with cult heroes Twelfth Night and subsequently cu¬rate of this parish (or of a parish in Bolton anyway) and star of many media stories along the tried-and-tested "rocking vicar" line. Perhaps more importantly he's also been instrumental in the release of a string of remarkable albums under his own name, as The Bond, A Geoff Mann Band and most recently the quirkily titled Eh! Geoff Mann Band! So how did it all begin? "I was at Reading University" the 30-something moustachioed Mancunian recalls affection¬ately, "and I heard a racket coming out of somebody's room. It turned out to be a bloke called Andy who subsequently became a friend of mine who was playing his guitar in his room. At the time I was doing art and I did a series of massive backdrops for the solo performances he was doing. Towards the end of my time there I wanted to set up a thing called the Arts Circus which never came together as people wanted to do other thins like join bands - so I thought I might as well have a go myself. I bought a Wem 25 Watt amp, a CopyCat (echo unit) and A Kimbara Strat copy and started plonking around."


Geoff wasn't that much taken with the music dominating the press at the time - his roots lay in Genesis, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the rest. "I thought punk was a marketing ploy by the major record com¬panies - whereas it was good for something to happen I didn't think it was a particularly healthy kind of shake-up. It seemed to be more the drunken bum approach to revolu¬tion rather than the constructive alternative approach. Elements of it sunk in though."


Happily for Geoff there were a bunch of people in Reading with similar leanings and one particular group of them had put to¬gether an instrumental band called Twelfth Night. "They moved from being a two-piece in 1978 to being a four-piece in 1980. I reckoned they needed vocals - to me it was very visual music, it needed storylines and characters and I wrote a load of stuff for it. One day they recorded a massive track on a self-produced album called 'Sequences' and I sang an entire lyric over the top by putting it on the hi-fi in my living room and setting up a cassette recorder and bawling over the music. It made quite a decent tape actually. At the end you could just hear the postman knocking on the door saying, 'You've got a parcel.' I sent them this tape with the knocking on the end and they liked it, so I joined them as a singer."


Despite their aversion to punk, Twelfth Night were influenced by post-punk acts like U2 and brought an en¬ergy and aggression to their live act that soon earned them a live following and the nick¬name "Punk Floyd". They released two sin¬gles and four albums independently before signing a record deal with Music For Na¬tions. Before that deal materialised they spent agonising months negotiating with the major labels who were sniffing around the edges of the "proggie rock" scene, eager to capitalise on the main contenders. As it turned out, EMI signed Marillion and when they failed to shift units in the US, CBS got cold feet about their protégés Twelfth Night and dropped them before signing on the dotted line.


For Geoff, disillusionment and artistic frustration began to make him restless, and this sense of dissatisfaction, combined with the stirrings of a personal religious faith, spurred him to head back to his hometown of Salford. "Just before I joined Twelfth Night I had under¬stood that Christ died for me and that was something he had done for me specifically as well as for everyone else, because of his love for me. This didn't come about through a mission or through going to church; it hap¬pened out in the wild as it were. I didn't connect it with Christianity or church as such, I thought it was just a personal religious experience. I didn't know any Christians really but while I was commuting between Reading and Salford I was trying to work things out for myself. This went on for a couple of years. It combined with a feeling that I wanted to do something slightly more avant-garde than what we were doing in the band. Our first child was born in 1983 as well, two weeks before we played at the Reading Rock Festival. All these things com¬bined to make me cheesed off and decide to pack it in at the end of 1983."


Back in Salford, Geoff found himself literally holding the baby. "I've never earned enough money to live on, so my wife was always the worker, ever since we got married. She was running a Citizen's Advice Bureau and as soon as Thomas was weaned I took over looking after him." Despite his domestic duties, Geoff found time to record two albums in 1984 (the self-financed 'Chants Would Be A Fine Thing' and 'I May Sing Grace' on Food For Thought, a subsidiary of Music For Nations). He also began to explore further his religious lean¬ings. "I started going to the local Anglican Church in Salford. All the time I'd been in Twelfth Night, my wife had been going to the church - her rather dormant faith had been woken up by me having this experience, falling off the sofa one night. The sides of my head were shaved and I had beads down to my waist plaited into the remainder of my hair. I remember everyone at the church was very friendly and I was impressed with the sermon. It was there I began to find out the answer to a long-standing question.


"The bass player in Twelfth Night had asked me one night, 'OK, there's God the Father up there and then there's God the Son, that's Jesus, but what about the Holy Ghost?' I was trying to work these things out on my own and rather than admit that I didn't know the answer I said, 'I don't think we use that bit anymore!' When I went to this church and they spoke about the Holy Spirit quite a lot it was like the completion of this process that had begun back in 1981 when I understood that Christ had died for me. It was like the beginning of understanding what my end of the bargain was." Gradually Geoff's appear¬ances became more regular and he got more involved until he began to feel a growing call to enter the Anglican ministry. Initially he was turned down when he put himself for¬ward for training but the local bishop over¬turned the selection committee's decision and he embarked on three years of training in 1986. He didn't hang up his guitar for good, however, or even swap it for an acoustic and stick to Graham Kendrick material. From the start it seemed the church authorities knew they wouldn't be able to keep Geoff off the stage for long. During his years at college the Geoff Mann Band shrank to become The Bond, a rock band with a keyboard and drum-machine dominated sound and who recorded two albums for Marshall Pickering Records. In 1988 Geoff also recorded with his friend the classical guitarist Marc Catley, thus beginning a partnership that continues to this day and which has just borne fruit in a second album "The Off The End Of The Pier Show" (reviewed elsewhere).


Seventy-eight saw the release of TRB's "Power in the Darkness". Its razor-sharp dissection of the political and social climate of the time left this then student wanting to join the picket lines and do my share of stone-throwing. Not until now has another album managed to capture the essence of the malaise in society at the grass roots level. Its diagnosis of the problems of moral decay, confusion and helplessness facing so many is unerringly accurate. Unlike Tom Robinson and Co., Geoff Mann delivers a solution to the problem. Using his trademark 'wobbly and non-wobbly guitars' as a base he builds portraits of the try-anything-once-then-once-again brigade (Try Again), the unloved (Worthless Song), the selfish livers (Never Mind). The media's responsibilities are clearly stated. "Newspapers throwing stones about moral decay/You turn the page there's the thin end of the wedge/smiling for the circulation./What in the world are we doing? " Hopefully you won't be provoked into stone throwing, only into supporting the Church Urban Fund to whom the profits of this album will go! Do your bit - buy it!

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